Monday, November 07, 2005

Intellectual pillars of social conservatism

Althouse tips me off to a most interesting WAPO story on the pending changes to the US Supreme Court:
In the view of Howard Gillman, a professor of political science at the University of Southern California, the possibility that five Catholics may soon sit on the court is less striking than the fact that all five are Republicans. "It certainly is a dramatic reflection of the changing demographics of our parties," he said. Since the 1960s, the Republican Party has made substantial inroads among Catholics, who are a quarter of the U.S. population and have roughly split their votes in recent presidential elections, tipping narrowly toward Al Gore in 2000 and then toward George W. Bush in 2004. Why have recent Republican presidents turned again and again to Catholic jurists when making appointments to the Supreme Court? It may be partly an effort to woo Catholic voters, but mostly it's because so many of the brightest stars in the conservative legal firmament are Catholics, several scholars said. Gillman believes that beginning in the 1960s, many conservative Catholics went into the legal profession "because they felt the constitutional jurisprudence of the country was not reflecting their values," particularly on abortion, funding for parochial schools and restrictions on religion in public places. "I think you're seeing the fruits of those efforts now," he said. Bernard Dobranski, dean of Ave Maria School of Law, a Catholic institution founded in 2000 in Ann Arbor, Mich., said the number of highly qualified conservative Catholic lawyers is also a tribute to the strength of Catholic schools, the determination of immigrants to educate their children and a rich tradition of legal scholarship in the Catholic Church. A hallmark of that tradition is the belief in "natural law," a basic set of moral principles that the church says is written in the hearts of all people and true for all societies. Though long out of favor in secular law schools, the natural law approach is resurgent among conservatives, Dobranski said. ... Evangelical Protestants are also becoming more visible on Ivy League campuses and at top law schools. But, said Notre Dame's Bradley, "I do think that there is an important truth in saying that Catholics are the intellectual pillars of social conservatism. Compared to their political allies in that movement, Catholics are heirs to a richer intellectual tradition and... are more inclined to believe that reason supplies good grounds for the moral and political positions characteristic of social conservatism. Call it the 'natural law' thing."
Althouse comments:
Interesting. The article also notes that Justice William Brennan, the Court's last passionate liberal, was also Catholic. Liberals are missing something if they lose the sense that rights are real and substantial. As I listen to the attacks on Judge Alito, I hear, relentlessly expressed, the idea that law is political and judges are all ideologues who, given power, will work their will on us. Where are the passionate, Brennanesque liberals of yore, who really believed we have rights? Is that belief becoming solely a conservative notion ?
I think the answer to Ann's question about the nature of rights is 'yes' - the left side of the spectrum appears to be in thrall to positivism and that explains why they see all interactions, exchanges, and conflicts as being ultimately about power. How do you even begin to deal with someone who holds such a view? I'm simplifying, of course, but it can't be denied that 60's Dems have people like Foucault on their minds and those who don't inhale it second hand at the water cooler unawares. It seems to me that it was inevitable that sincere and informed Catholics would have to distance themselves from a party that embraced such an outlook. What we are seeing now is that the Dems have a real decision to make. Court the middle that is now in the process of leaving, or sit on the sidelines until the party bleeds to death. Yup, I think it's that bleak. You build on a rotten foundation and this is what happens.
In Canada, our legal power base also has a number of Catholics in it. Both our former and our current Prime Minister are Catholic, for example, as was Joe Clark. Quebec, one of the largest and most influential provinces in the Confederation, has a rich history of Catholicism. So what is different here? Why are we subject to PM's like Paul Martin and Pierre Trudeau? The worm has not turned here and I don't see a lot in the way of signs that it will any time soon. The problem here is not just one or two generations of collapsed faith. I think Quebec's Catholic culture sat higher and fell harder than anything in the US experience. It had too large and too firm a grasp and it failed to modernize effectively and as a result it has been discredited and it has no close ties to a vital Protestant culture due to both a certain cultural chauvinism that I've alluded to before, and a language barrier that is also a significant factor in keeping the better parts of US evangelism out. I see our Catholic power elite's embrace of positive freedom as being a result of that monolithic culture's disrepute. They appear to have kept the older ways of central state power and melded it with the new left ideas of all relations being at the bottom power relations. They can't trust anyone to do what's right, so it has to be codified if there is to be any good, any freedom. When all you see is coercive power relationships, it's OK to have a huge, meddling state as long as it uses that power for good, to reign in all that coercion. This is not what natural law is about. The natural law is the criterion for deciding if a law is just or not. If it is not, then no amount of codification and social engineering will make a law work. The natural law is also all embracing, so that it does not need for all of it to be reflected in the laws of a just state. I can only look on to recent goings on down south and hope there might be a carryover effect of some sort. A generational change on the Liberal side, a stronger natural law effort by Conservatives on this side of the border, I think Canada needs both of these things if it is to succeed in the future.

No comments: